06/06 - Stage 2 - York to Sheffield - 201 km

This is - without a doubt - the most feared of the three opening stages in the UK. We will definitely see a new rider in the yellow jersey at the end of the stage.

The route
It only takes a quick glance at the profile to understand that this will be a very difficult day in the saddle. There are no less than nine categorized climbs on the menu and just as many un-categorized ones. There are 18 KOM points up for grabs today, meaning, whoever takes the polka dot jersey most likely will be able to wear it for the following six days. This alone could save the Tour for one of the smaller teams.

The intermediate sprint is placed in Keighley. There have already been some hills to overcome at this point. However, this early in the stage, we should expect all the sprinters targeting the green jersey to contest for the points. A breakaway will already be up front but don’t expect it to gain too much of a gap. The leg-breaking profile and risk of severe cross wind mean all the GC riders want to be at the front. Therefore, the pace will be extremely high most of the day. Add to that possible showers and you know this will be a very tough stage.

The finish
With around 37 km to go, the stage goes into its deciding part. We can expect a furious fight for positions as the peloton prepares to take on Côte de Midhopestones. Like most of the climbs today, it isn’t the length that will tire out the riders. Instead, the steep gradients will definitely create time gaps in the peloton. The narrow road towards the top has parts of 15 %. We might already see attacks amongst the stage contenders at this point. If so, it will be like dropping a grenade in the peloton. The following descents are as technical as the climbs are steep. The riders will be all over the roads.

The final climb of the day is also the steepest. It’s the shortest climb on the stage but the 800 meters on Jenkin Road have an agonizing average gradient of over 10 % with parts of 25 %! There are only 5 km to go from the top of the climb. The first part of the descent is very fast while the last part is a bit more technical. The final 3 km are flat, with the last kilometer being straight out on a big road towards the finishing line.

The favorites
Since this stage looks like a mini Liège-Bastogne-Liège, naturally we should look to riders who are strong in the Ardennes Classics as the top favorites today.

Before stage 1, my number one favorite in this field was Simon Gerrans. He won La Doyenne this year and has this stage circled in his road book. Gerrans is one of the best riders in the peloton on these kinds of climbs and he’s extremely fast on the line. He proved this when he outsprinted Peter Sagan on stage 3 last year. However, it’s highly doubtful that Simon Gerrans will be able to bring his A-game today after his terrible crash with Mark Cavendish on stage 1. He wants to give it a go but GreenEdge may end up putting their faith in Michael Albasini instead - another very strong finisseur in a reduced group.

The only one of the top GC riders with a solid chance of winning today is Alejandro Valverde. This year, he finished 2nd after Simon Gerrans in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, a race the Spaniard has won multiple times the past. Valverde knows that he most likely won’t be able to stick with Chris Froome and Alberto Contador on the long climbs later in the race. Therefore, it would be of huge importance if he could get just a small advantage already. Froome has been training on these routes and he knows the climbs. Contador hasn’t. His knowledge of the climbs, allegedly, comes from watching GCN's video preview online. Personally, I don’t think Valverde can beat Gerrans in a sprint on flat road anymore. However, Valverde’s killer instinct is still intact. When he sees the finishing line, he always finds extra energy in his legs.

Peter Sagan is levels above his rivals for the green jersey on the climbs. He’s one of the top favorites today and he will be able to gain a lot of points in the sprint competition. Sagan is wearing the white jersey today as the best young rider in the race. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up having three jerseys (yellow, green and white) at the end of the day. Peter Sagan may not be able to follow the likes of Gerrans and Valverde if they decide to attack on the part of 25 %. However, he won’t be far off and if it comes to a sprint, the Slovakian must be the number one favorite. Still, it’s important to note that Sagan most likely will be alone in the final. I very much doubt that Cannondale will have any riders left to help him on the last climbs.

The outsiders
On such an undulating route, with a short steep climb so close to the finishing line, naturally the outsiders will be many. Rui Costa was very attentive on stage 1, constantly staying near the front. As I mentioned in the overall preview, Rui Costa can’t afford to lose any time early in the race as he has done often is past stage races. He doesn’t have a strong kick on the steep gradients like Valverde, but Rui Costa definitely fast enough to fight for the win.

Another very interesting outsider today is Tom-Jelte Slagter. Garmin is backing Andrew Talansky 100 % for the GC this year, aiming for Top5 overall. Naturally, the number one priority is to make sure the young American is near the front. However, on paper, this finish is great for Slagter. He has a powerful kick on these kind of hills and he has already proven to be extremely fast in a sprint within a reduced group. Last year, he outsprinted Simon Gerrans in Stirling in Tour de Down. This year, the Dutchman won two stages in Paris-Nice and finished 5th in Flèche Wallone and 6th in Liège-Bastogne-Liège. If this ends in a sprint within a 25-man group, don’t be surprised if Slagter makes another top result.

For other strong candidates look to Michael Kwiatkowski, Tony Gallopin and Bauke Mollema. Not to forget Fabian Cancellara, Sylvain Chavanel, Arhur Vichot and Greg van Avermaet.

For live coverage of the stage, go to steephill.tv.